Credit: Patricia Jewett photo

After being locked out for nearly a month, numerous Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church members are demanding answers from their church’s council members and the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In March, the status of the 105-year-old church was voted on by the congregation and witnessed by the Synod, the governing body of Lutheran churches across the country. Most of the congregation voted to keep the church open, but on Sunday, June 11, they found the locks changed and no way into their regular Sunday worship service.

“Our sexton finished his work Saturday evening and locked the doors like normal, but Sunday morning, we found the locks changed and have been locked out of our church ever since,” said Patricia Jewett, a church council member.

“My kids were christened in that church, my grandkids were christened in that church, and they gave us no notice of it closing beforehand,” said Jean Farrell, vice president of the church’s council.

The vote to close the church has received backlash from several members, and a large portion of those upset are irritated at the execution of the closure as well.

The closure has cascading effects on the community. Jewett explained in a press release that the church hosted after-school programs, English as a Second Language classes, a food pantry, and more. Jewett said she doesn’t know how long the pantry will remain open, and the other programs have already ceased operations at the church.

Jewett said the Synod first told them that only a congregation could vote to close the church. After the congregation’s vote in March that resulted in 16 cast ballots, with 12 in favor of keeping the church open, members were told the church would still be closed regardless of the vote.

After the results of the vote, they were told that the Synod or a representative would notify the congregation before closure. But Jewett and other members said there was no such notification before that Sunday.

The day before, June 10, a resolution was sent to the church, and a letter addressed to Emilie Ramdhanie, the congregation president of Fordham Lutheran Church, from Christopher Vergara, the Synod’s vice president. The letter said the Synod would appoint three trustees to control the church entirely. 

The Reverend Gladys Diaz, who is an assistant to the bishop for the Bronx and other regions; Branden Dupree, an assistant to the bishop and the director for evangelical mission; and Vergara are the trustees who are in full control of the churches and represent the Synod in different capacities.

“This means that the Synod will take charge and control of the real and personal property of

Fordham to hold, manage and convey the same on behalf of this Synod,” the letter read.

Jewett said she tried to contact Ramdhanie and her daughter, the church’s treasurer, about trying to keep the church open throughout the voting process, but that they both have yet to be reached to try to reopen the church and have been absent since the vote. Some trustees and council members have also been unresponsive to Jewett and others’ meeting requests.

In response to the comment, the Metropolitan New York Synod’s Office stated that it had supported the church financially and pastorally, but had found it would no longer sustain the church due to insurance and administrative issues.

“That said, we are fully prepared to provide pastoral care, and numerous congregations stand ready to welcome the members of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church with open arms and loving hearts. The well-being of the congregation and its surrounding community remains our primary concern and priority for our synod,” according to the statement from the office.

Some members have said relocation to other churches is not feasible due to transportation issues and age.

“Other members and I have been attending this church for over 30 years, and they just shut the door on us,” said ​​Faye Nottage, a church council member. “It’s hard to find a new church I can commute to at this age. I’m older now and can’t fight like I used to for this church.”

As stated in the letter, the congregation can appeal Synod’s decision until July 25, when a meeting can be called with a representative of the Bishop’s office. 

Jewett and other members said they would continue to reach out to the trustees and council members to reopen their beloved church.They have held rallies, put up posters, and reached out to administrators, but are still waiting to see if their church doors will ever open again.

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